Turning 22, birthday blues, and growing up
Last week, I turned 22 – During a (third) national lockdown. If you'd have told me last year that we'd all be in a lockdown eleven months later (cry) and that I would be celebrating my birthday during a said lockdown, I'd never have believed you. Last year, I felt so grateful that I turned 21 a month before we went into the first lockdown; it meant that I could celebrate my birthday in Lisbon of all places (it was beautiful). If only I'd have known that despite my incessant gratitude and appreciation: I would be experiencing a lockdown birthday one year later.
Birthdays are something that have tormented me for as long as I can remember. Since the age of twelve, I've managed to cry every single birthday. On my thirteenth birthday, I sat and wallowed about becoming a teenager because, in my eyes, I was now old, and my life was as good as over (done, finished, finito).
Every year, my birthday crying seems to get progressively worse but almost always unfolds in the same way. Similarly to the five stages of a break-up, this is my "three stages of birthday crying"
Stage one - THE INITIAL BLOW
This usually happens when I have a minute to myself to sit and think about the fact that I am a whole year older. Another minute passes, and I become sad about this fact that I've just realised and that yes, Chloe, you are now a whole year older. I begin to worry that my life is flashing me by, and I've yet to achieve any great successes like climbing Everest or landing on the moon. Cue the waterworks.
Stage two - SAD GIRL BIRTHDAY TRADITION
I like to refer to phase two as 'sad girl birthday time'. This usually happens after I've had a little chat with myself and reminded myself that I would get homesick on the moon, and Everest has never been on my radar. I remind myself that the lines on my forehead are fine and few and far between, nothing a drop of hyaluronic acid cannot fix. After I've finally finished drying my tears and reassuring myself, I begin to cry again, just because it's become a tradition to cry on my birthdays.
Phase three - MELTDOWN
Phase three is both the final and the worst stage. Phase three is where I cry because I'm crying on my (happy) birthday. I cry over the fact that I'm crying on yet another birthday, a day that's supposed to be happy but has only brought me sadness. There is a literal song dedicated to having a "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, to you" – but, what if I don't know how to be happy on my birthday?).
NO MORE BIRTHDAY SADNESS
However, now that I have turned the big ol' twenty- two - I am a changed woman. It seems as though I've turned over a new leaf; on this side of the leaf, there are only dry eyes and happy smiles. This birthday, I didn't cry at all -There were two occasions that I was about to cry but, I firmly and lovingly reminded myself that this year, it's a happy birthday, not a bad birthday.
I began the destruction of my birthday crying tradition last year; I vowed that now that I was twenty-one years old, I wouldn't cry on my twenty-first or any other birthday. I did it - There were no tears shed on my twenty-first but, I did end up crying for at least an hour the day before (I guess this was an attempt to bargain with myself:
"If I'm not allowed to cry on my birthday this year, can I at least cry on my birthday eve?"
In all honesty, I can't understand why I struggle and fight with my birthdays so much. Most of the time, I wish that they could pass me by so that I never have to think about them. However, the nostalgic and sentimental side of my soul forbids me from this. I know that eighty-year-old me will want birthday memories to look back on. So, for the past however many years, I've begrudgingly stumbled and cried through my birthdays, trying to be a happy birthday girl when in reality, I'm a sad birthday girl. I know that sounds massively depressing (somebody please, grab a violin) but, I feel hugely guilty when anybody buys me a present which then results in me crying because they've spent money on me (where is the logic?). The thought of a person going into a shop and taking time out of their day to pick me a card makes me feel like the worst person in the world. Last year, I spent an hour crying that my dads' girlfriend had baked me the loveliest birthday cake - However, there was no time to eat it all, for I was flying out to Lisbon the following day and, by the time I got back, it was stale. As silly as this sounds, this felt like a massive weight on my shoulders and, for the life of me, I couldn't stop crying about this beautiful bloody birthday cake.
While my birthday brings me gifts and delicious food, it also brings me bundles of guilt, shame, and sadness. My birthdays make me feel like the worst person on this planet (it's irrational, I know).
This year though, I felt happy and, any time that the usual feelings of guilt and shame insisted on making an appearance, I would tell them that they were not welcome because; today was a happy birthday, not a bad birthday.
Towards the end of 2020, I read 'eat, pray, love'. There's a part in the book that I LOVE. Elizabeth Gilbert (the author) says something or other about not making a habit out of falling apart - I agree with this, one thousand percent. I am all for valuing and validating my feelings but, there's a massive difference between taking a day to myself because I'm feeling overwhelmed or crying for hours because a birthday card has made me feel like I'm a bad person that doesn't deserve happiness.
While we are on the topic of 'eat, pray, love', here are some quotes from the book about happiness that I also love:
"You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That's the only thing you should be trying to control."
"I'm choosing happiness over suffering, I know I am. I'm making space for the unknown future to fill up my life with yet-to-come surprises."
So, I guess that is where I'm at now. I'm going through a stage of growth at the moment; learning to be kinder to myself while also being sure and assertive of who I am. I'm becoming aware of my feelings, distinguishing between the real ones and the ones that are a bad habit. I'm now making a habit of choosing happiness over suffering and realising that I deserve to be happy, not sad.
My twenty-second was calm, mellow and, homely. I began the day with a Starbucks in bed (this cost me eight-pound but, it was so worth it). I then spent the day exploring London, which made me even more grateful that I live here (I love this city; I'm convinced that it is my one true love). I went on the emirates cable carts for the first time (next time I'm going to go on them during the evening because London is even better at night). I explored Canary Wharf for the first time, feeling like a tiny fish in a gigantic pond as I walked alongside the skyscrapers (I've only just realised that they're called this because they're so tall that they scrape the sky, I think that's kind of lovely). I went to see the light show in Canada Square – It was a little underwhelming but, I think if I'd have stumbled across it at random, it would have been a quirky surprise that I'd not been expecting. Then, I hopped on the tube to China Town so that I could get my favourite cake in the world. Also, I tried bubble tea for the first time (It won't be my last). Next time, I'm going to try the jelly balls instead of the popping pearls.
I'm so glad that I'm beginning to outgrow my sad girl birthdays. At the very least, I'm able to see them as a normal day as opposed to being this huge thing that makes me sad. With each year that I grow older, I'm becoming happier and healing from my past traumas (I guess that's the goal). I'm learning that life can be amazing at any stage and any age, as long as I allow it to be, just that.
Let us raise a glass to growing up, growing old and, being happy.